Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘french writers’ Category

indiahodges
William Hodges (1744-97), An Indian Village with a Man seated in the Foreground

Dear friends and readers,

My report on the panels and papers given by the Burney society on 20 October 2016, the day before the “official” beginning of the JASNA (Jane Austen Society of America) meeting and on the panels and papers of the JASNA AGM has been much delayed, and I regret to say will be less specific and shorter than my previous conference reports. I got lost on the way to Trinity College where the Burney Society was holding its meeting, and missed much of the keynote address, and in any case (as I’ve said) my ability with stenography permit me only to record the gist of most of the papers; the JASNA group had but four (!) break-out sessions (astonishing) and two serious speeches on the Friday and Saturday (the 21st and 22nd) I was able to attend. There was one lecture mid-morning Sunday on an edition of Emma (1816, Philadelphia, by Juliette Wells) as part of a breakfast set-up and nothing else; since I wasn’t staying at the expensive hotel, and was teaching on Monday I could not take out the time for one book history talk. I’ve described the places and ambiance the two different societies met in when I came home lest I forget the experiences (scroll down; or read the material transferred to this blog in the comments section).

Here I cover two-thirds of papers on Burney. These papers placed Burney in contexts she claimed she didn’t wouldn’t talk about, but was in fact subject to all her life and is central to her books and life’s experience: the colonialist, patronage “system” and familial politics of her era.

I came in at the end of Tara Ghosal Wallace’s detailed talk on “Burney and the Politics of Empire,” which focused first on the hypocritical, corrupt, ferocious political in-fighting among factions in India, which through her male relatives, and attachment to George III’s court influenced Burney’s daily existence. Prof Wallace gave a history in detail of local English politics and office holders attached to and in India; she thought Warren Hastings caught between cross-fires (whom Burney obtusely absolved from any guilt or responsibility without ever giving any cogent details); she described the nuances of party politics (Indian and British individual and office alliances) amid the sexual courtship and humiliating scenes of Burney’s time at court; and the politics of empire in The Wanderer. Burney was under “intolerable psychological pressure from contradictory points of view, all of these personal to her.”

The first panel was called “The Stormy Sea of Politics,” and all three papers were on French and national politics. Geoffrey Sill discussed how Frances differed from her father’s arch-conservative reaction to the French revolution: Charles was for continuing absolute monarchy, saw the idea of the rights of men as absurd. Burney, as we know, lavished praise on her father, but we can see where she differed: she thought a king was as limited by law as any man; she was horrified by the misery she saw in France. She was not sceptical about the needs of people demonstrating. Anne-Claire Michoux discussed how the female body was represented in Burney’s diary-journals and The Wanderer. Burney’s work is deeply invested in social issues; she published a pamphlet on emigres, and admired Mme de Stael. In Evelina women are victims of physical violence, of psychological assault; in her fiction, her heroines are oppressed through their bodies, they have vulnerable incomes too. Brian McCrea seems to have received harsh reviews of his book on Burney where he presented her as a conservative: he argued that Burney was terrified of the French revolution. Burney writes wryly but also as apolitically as she can, and defends the patriarchal feudal world. Doody saw affinities with Wollstonecraft and Jacobin novels, and argued the character of Elinor in The Wanderer stands for the revolution as a noble flame. McCrea argued this is to misread; Burney’s Admiral Powell’s views are those validated.

charm
Hubert Robert (1733-1808), A servant brings papers to an aristocrat intent on renovating his garden with classical structures

After a coffee break, the second panel of the day was “Ruling Politics.” Lori Halvorsen Zerne discussed authoritarianism in The Wanderer. Juliette stands for “the other,” and is treated with hatred by some; many in the book are uncomfortable with the ambiguity of her identity. Good characters in the novel are cowardly while the bad are audacious. Hannah Messina’s paper title was “Politics at Home: Uncomfortable Domesticity in Cecilia.” Class, gender, charity and debt are among the novel’s topics; the conflict over last names confirms patriarchal tyranny. We learn that outside the home Cecilia is in danger; she needs a place to be secure. Her guardians interfere, her friends wreak personal catastrophe (the auction) on themselves. Cecilia had hoped for a quiet time with her friend, Mrs Harrell, but instead finds herself fleeced. One problem is it’s impossible for Cecilia to avoid or opt out of this society yet she herself can be thrown out and made a homeless beggar. After Delville’s uncertain and jealous treatment of her, she collapses. The novel shows the nature of a character’s domestic space is crucial to the development of an identity. Sara Tavela concentrated on Burney’s presentation of the medical and psychological sufferings of George III in her journals. Burney shows us there is no effective control over the king’s illness, and that the Queen is left without helpful information.

It was not quite lunch-time and so time for discussion of all we had heard up to then. Someone suggested that Burney created a template in her novels by which we can see how women are left without resources, are not listened to. Society dictates to them who they are. Women in authority are not granted full respect, find themselves in a liminal space.

There was a talk during lunch. Laura Rosenthal asked “what do we do with Sir Jaspar.” Laura saw the home as having theatrical spaces; commodities are props by which we construct our artificial selves. Burney resists desiring interiors and exteriors. Marilyn Francus suggested that in Cecilia we see how people talk to one another with the norms of social desires break down. Sociability crumbles in Cecilia; at the close the heroine crumbles too. Alex suggested that male characters also experience discomfort in their homes (e.g. Belfield).

the-sense-of-sight-philippe-mercier
Philippe Mercier (1689-1760), The Sense of Sight

After lunch, the third panel was on “Celebrity and Material Culture.” Laura Engel talked about the three best portraits of Burney: Edward Frances Burney (1782) where her hands are on her waist.

portrait_frances

Edward Francesco Burney’s portrait of her (1784) sporting an enormous hat

burneyhatted

and John Bogle’s miniature (1785) of her with a pinched face; it seems the truest to her features

fannyburneyjohnbogle
An enlargement so you can see her facial features

Portraits, Laura said, represent the remains of a life’s performance; we can see the exaggerations of her dress and hats; all three provide much insight. In the first and third she gazes at us, interacting with us. Croker, a hostile reviewer, described the way Burney looked late in life cruelly: she was an old coquette. Butterworth found another image said to be of Burney at 15, up-close, intimate somehow. Laura compared these images to verbal descriptions of the heroines in the novels; and then to other portraits by painters of famous actresses (Siddons, Robinson), duchesses (Georgiana Spenser). These gorgeous hats as props keep re-appearing. Laura felt Burney probably preferred the miniature.

Kirsten Hall’s paper title was “Burney and Ciceronian Celebrity.” She talked about how celebrated Ciceronian ideals and how classical figures were depicted affected Burney’s fiction and attitudes. Cicero’s Moral Offices (obligations, duties) showed a world of reciprocal relationships, favors, and services. It was thought reading this book was good for people. we can see how widely deivergent rules for social behavior can be from what an individual may want or feel to be right. Kirsten then showed how the characters of Mortimer and Cecilia fit in; what she owes him, how they behave to one another (in an imagined bookshop). She also went over real behavior in a real library, and what we see suggested is Burney lived (like most of us) by compromise.

Since the last two papers took a somewhat different direction, I’ll stop here as this blog is long enough.

Ellen

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

hardy_under_beachy_head-large
Hardy, Under Beachy Head

Dear friends and readers,

This is the sixth and last of my reports on the the Charlotte Smith conference this October, to which I will add a lecture given by Carole Brown on the history of St John’s Church in Guildford where Charlotte Smith was baptized and lies buried. The first I told of of the building, grounds, the social world of the conference; the second, my paper on the post-colonial Ethelinde and Smith’s The Emigrants (as well as plans for women artist blogs, Anne Killigrew, Dora Carrington and Remedios Varo); the third was on the Elegiac Sonnets; the fourth on Smith’s poetry again, this time from the point of view of the marketplace, natural world, and the use of paintings in her novels; the fifth, Smith as a novelist and playwright. We began and ended the conference papers with her poetry. Desmond and the places of her birth, upbringing, wandering and burial were part of this last phase.

demolitionbastille
Hubert Robert (1733-1808), The Demolition of the Bastille (1789)

On Saturday afternoon of the second day of panels, there were two papers on Smith’s Desmond. Grace Harvey presented a group of ideas she was working out. She talked of Desmond as the most important radical novel of the era; it was the first to present the French revolution, and in is earliest phases, and made a strong case for radical reform. She had trouble finding a publisher. An epistolary novel, it has two central voices in the dialogues about revolution, which are connected to Desmond’s choices in life and couched in terms of their friendship: Desmond is the idealist “voice of reason,” his arguments show William Godwin’s influence; Bethel, the older man, is the “voice of experience, primarily there insistently to counterbalance and modify Desmond’s arguments. Desmond is unable to embrace Bethel’s advice, which takes the form of warnings, his own idealism untempered will become a source of unhappiness for him. Smith’s later books for children show the double voice again but in different terms: Mrs Woodfield, the teacher urge repression of discontent, cheerful submission to what is, a sort of Bethel attitude; but she also checks flippancy and superficiality in Henrietta and Elizabeth, urging on them a kind of serious earnestness. Grace didn’t mention how strongly Smith was influenced by Rousseau in both all these books, especially Julie ou La Nouvelle Heloise (for the novel) and Emile (for pedagogy)

Katrin Roder contextualized Smith’s Celestina and Demond with a discussion of sensibility in the era: her radicalism is rooted in ideas associated with the feelingful character of sensibility. These novels centrally question unconditional obedience to authority. They show how social sympathy creates human bonds; how important concern for others, for one’s home,and the limits of interpersonal support. Desmond loves his house too. she quoted interesting passages where Celestina attempts to help her servant Jessie, and Desmond listens to Geraldine, whose husband has sought to sell her and whom he marries at the end of the novel, where both identify and sympathize with these intelligent victims. Typical patterns for the sentimental novel show a hero’s suffering rewarded, morally superior victims who obey patriarchal norms. In Smith’s novels suffering is not inevitable, there are salutary reward, but the happy ending is often an afterthought. The reflections of the characters and narrator and what happens during the fiction of more important. Characters endure internal and external exile. In the discussion afterward it was remarked that if you cut Smith’s endings off, stop say at a penultimate chapter, they are deeply pessimistic.

allinghamnearbeachyhead
Helen Allingham (1848-1926), Near Beachy Head — this feels so appropriate as until they grew older Smith would often have had her children with her

One could say the last part of the day was devoted to Charlotte Smith’s unfinished (it’s a long fragment) poetical masterpiece, Beachy Head. Three excellent papers dependent on close reading, followed by a recital in the nearby St Nicholas church. Melissa Cow began with how Beachy Head, Smith’s most ambitious poem, lacks clarity of vision. The poem shows the inadequacies of science, geology, history, paleontology which are difficult to assemble produces a sense of strangeness. She begins with a strong sense of locality: the narrator is at the top of Beachy Head, and looks to see what is buried under his feet. While in Gilbert White we feel nature is a system, a good one which can be comprehended, Smith’s questions complicate and upset what we know. She goes beyond her reading of Erasmus Darwin to anticipate modern ideas about extinction; 17th century ideas about the immensity of the earth, catastrophes that have occurred, fossils of mammoth elephants. Her poem works through a range of associative leaps. Samantha Botz suggested Beachy Head invites pivotal readings of history as well as implied politics. Wordsworth saw himself as a man speaking to men, someone with a more lively sensibility, led to create in his mind what he does not find in the world. Smith gives us wandering silent fugitive figures, a contemplative antiquary, a lively anecdotal voice, as well as a critically analystical one, with visible nature showing contingency, and the vanity of science’s boasts.

Amela Worsley’s “‘Death Alone: Charlotte Smith’s hermits” provided a fitting close to the conference and a lead-in to the musical setting of the poem. The idea of a poet as a lonely figure begins in the later 17th century, solitary introspective males in a landscape, to which the sublime is added in the later 18th. The lone woman is ever at risk of sexual assault. Her multiple solitaries are male hermits whose outlook she likened to that of Milton’s Comus, the unknown poet of the “Elegy written in a country churchyard,” Mary Robinson’s “Anselmo, hermit of the Alps. Amelia said Smith uses geology to de-familiarize the local. She offered a careful comparative readings. The figures seek safety and run great risk (psychological too), know intense suffering and rhapsody, and often end in the peace of death. This is one of the passages she dwelt upon:

    Then, of Solitude
And of his hermit life, still more enamour’d,
His home was in the forest; and wild fruits
And bread sustain’d him. There in early spring
The Barkmen found him, e’er the sun arose;
There at their daily toil, the Wedgecutters
Beheld him thro’ the distant thicket move.
The shaggy dog following the truffle hunter,
Bark’d at the loiterer; and perchance at night
Belated villagers from fair or wake,
While the fresh night-wind let the moonbeams in
Between the swaying boughs, just saw him pass,
And then in silence, gliding like a ghost
He vanish’d! Lost among the deepening gloom.—
But near one ancient tree, whose wreathed roots
Form’d a rude couch, love-songs and scatter’d rhymes,
Unfinish’d sentences, or half erased,
And rhapsodies like this, were sometimes found—

    Let us to woodland wilds repair
    While yet the glittering night-dews seem
    To wait the freshly-breathing air,
    Precursive of the morning beam …

derwentwater-cumberland-c-1806-large
John Constable (175-1837), Derwentwater, Cumberland (where Ethelinde is set)

I can’t speak too highly of the music of Amanda Jacobs, singing of Janet Oates, and recitation of the poem by Elizabeth Dolan at St Nicholas Church. Amanda and Beth had divided the poem into several emotional sequences conforming to the phases of the day that the poem charts. We moved from morning to afternoon to evening, giving us the lines as songs of grief and happiness. As with Ned Bingham, Viscount Mersey’s setting of Smith’s Sonnet, “Written in Bignor Park in Sussex, August 1799,” Low murmurs creep along the woody vale the day before, Jacobs’s music was atonal, dissonant, each line of music fitted to each line of verse, with an overall patterning that was melancholy yet beautiful, and in this case finally uplifting. Very 21st century music. I felt I had understand parts of the poem for the first time, had seen the logic (so to speak) of how the poem was put together. Everyone in the church seemed so moved.

It was evening and time to return to the hotel.

****************************

Sunday was our day of trips, which I mentioned in my first blog. On Sunday we set off around 9:30 am in a chartered bus. The bus-driver was a tour guide himself and told us about some of the landscapes and towns we drove through. Ned Bingham was our generous gracious host in a visit to Bignor Park where we could wander where Smith had grown up, left to marry and later visited, and wandered to write her poetry more than a century ago; a tourist’s trip to Petworth House and Park. The house is now a hollow shell for tourists to wander through with the impressive objects in the house set up somewhat indiscriminately. I could see how the original Earl was determined to set a grand aristocratic framing for each aspect of his house and park too, notwithstanding the beauty of the park and some of the pictures.

st_john_the_evangelist_stoke_guildford
St John the Evangelist, Stoke, Guildford

The last place felt most like a revelation to me, mostly because I had not known anything about Charlotte Smith’s actual birthplace, Stoke House where her mother grew up, the history of the local community at the time (and before and since), as well as the problem of where she’s buried (no one knows the exact spot in the church or grounds). All this and more was covered by Carole Brown, a local church activist, conservationist, and historian, who seemed delighted to be able to inform us of all this and whatever else we wanted to know with as much detail as she could get in in the half-hour walking and sitting tour. The site of the church goes back to pre-Christian times, the building itself (renovated countless times) to the pre-Reformation. She was able to inform us especially some of the other (and more) famous people who attended this church, philanthropists, a good deal about the church in World War One, and the most recent art in the church (Pre-Raphaelie glass windows) and how it is the center of a community of people of all ages doing all sorts of things in the church today.

It was a splendid conference.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

HUbertRobertgardwenitalianvilla
Garden of an Italian Villa (1764)

Catalogue: “the overall spacial fluidity [remarkable] slightly syncopated … the space offers the surprise of a tree-framed aperture at the top of the steps on the left, and easily accommodates the irregular perspective … recalls landscapes of the German artist Friedrich Reclam … “

HUbertRobertartidtinhisstudio
The Artist in his Studio (c.1763-65)

“The ideas that ruins awaken within me are grandiose. Everything is annihilated, everything perishes, every thing passes out of existence; the world alone remains, time alone endures. How old this world is! I walk between two eternities. Wherever I cast my eyes, the objects surrounding me speak of an end and make me resigned to that which awaits me … ” (– Denis Diderot after seeing a now lost Grande galerie eclairee du fond by Robert)

HUbertRobertloggiamedici
A loggia in the Villa Medici

Dear friends and readers,

Hubert Robert is such a favorite artist with me that I braved intense heat, a long trip on the Metro for a second day (see first), a crowded city a couple of days after the exhibit opened. I worried lest Metro service get worse, and didn’t trust them to resume regular service on the lines I use in time to see the exhibit.

Seven or eight rooms filled with paintings, drawings, watercolors, an area for sketchbooks take you through the phases of Robert’s impressive career(click on one hour podcast art evaluation as biography to the right). His life takes you through an outline of the history of France: the ancien regime as experienced by the young man lifted well above his original station (his parents were servants in an aristocratic house) in Rome, and shoring up material for later years:

RobertColisseum
The Colisseum

loggiavillamadama
Loggia at Villa Madama (c.1760)

palacelouvregardens
This painting of the gardens at the Louvre from later in Robert’s career (post-1790) can also stand in for a room of gardens (pre-1790)

demolitionbastille
The Bastille in the First Days of the Demolition (1789)

Catalogue: “the painting … shows a setting sun illuminating the exaggeratedly huge fortress as it looms against an orange-tinted sky, seems to admirably capture the extraordinary surge of feeling that would lead in just a few weeks to the building’s total destruction …”

Then suspect for his associations and thrown in prison, almost executed,

inmatestlazare2
An inmate at St Lazare

Catalogue: “the identity of the man … is uncertain … [this is] a portrait of a cell with its spartan furnishings, augmented by such comforts as a couple of books, a somewhat ornate chest, and a small mirror. Hanging prominently on the wall is a hat with the tricolor cockade … [this sort of symbol had become] a kind of camouflage, simply to fit in and to avoid problems.”

foodlazare
Women bringing in food at St Lazare

lucky release, and later career this time patronized by the state, involved in the transformation of the Louvre

Hubert Robert Tutt'Art@

The exhibit concentrated on and brought out beautifully the quiet learned and contemplative aspect of the man’s work. You are told how successful he was from a very young age, how hard working, how serious, how he loved to socialize (Vigee-LeBrun doubted he ate at home more than three times a year), how many real friends he had, and that he was certainly good at networking too. I thought to myself he was as much a survivor as Talleyrand or Madame de Genlis.

One of the striking things to me about the exhibit the day I went was it was not crowded. It’s well advertised and large, just the sort of thing that usually draws a crowd. It was a Sunday afternoon; elsewhere I saw lots of people hurrying, scurrying, peering close up. Instead there were people I’d call reading and academic types sitting at a distance from pictures, at the center of a room contemplating what they were looking at. No one stood in my way. However successful in his lifetime, Robert’s is not a popular art. It is not aggressively aimed at the viewer; nothing exaggerated in the psychology of the figures. Tellingly, Robert seems to have done hardly any portraits of recognizable people close up.

I bought the exhibit book (a few essays, a thoroughly detailed chronology, catalogue raisonne) although in hardback (a slight sale) when I was told there would not be a paperback. It disappointed me in how studiedly neutral and unanalytic the essays were. I wondered why. There is fine review by Phllip Kennicott, “Stroll ancient Rome with Hubert Robert as tour guide,” which ends perceptively on the mood the exhibit stirs in a receptive viewer (Washington Post).

*************************
hermitprayimginruins1760
A Hermit praying in the ruins of a Roman temple (1760) — one of his many many capriccio

RobertHermitDetail
Detail from A Hermit in a Garden (c1790 — not in the exhibit)

So a few thoughts. The exhibit emphasized the capriccios, how much that we see is learned fantasy. His art is also playful, comic, with unexpected salaciousness (which I doubt Austen would have liked and might have complained about to Cassandra). He can pander to patrons. Take the Hermit in his Garden: it’s an illustration of an incident from La Fontaine’s “L’Ermite”, itself from an anti-feminist medieval bawdy tale. A friar lusts after a girl, tricks her deluded mother into leaving her daughter with him, impregnates the girl who just loves the experience (see Joseph Baillio, A Hermit in a Garden: A new acquisition for the Speed Art Museum, 2001). Study the Laundress and Child:

laundressandchild
1761

There is something very mean in this fall of Madame du Barry — she was guillotined later; some of his patrons had resented her because she was lower class: “How the mighty are fallen?”

allegorydubarryfamily
She did not go gentle into that long night but fought ferociously on the guillotine scaffold

It may be that Robert never tired of company whose variety he never found uncongenial, but over a lifetime of long working hours, weeks, months, years, the pictures he produced focus on moments of stillness, solitude, study, vulnerability, people at work.

HubertRobertFountain
The Fountain focuses on a disabled man

He doesn’t just juxtapose ordinary people going about their lives in these ruins as counter cheerful images, the wittiest of which may be the famous Ponte Salario whose upper center in woman trying to rescue her cat:

PonteSalarioHRobert

womanandcat (Mobile)
I hope through the blur the viewer sees how she’s risking toppling herself down as she reaches out

He pays attention to poor and middle class people: the first is about the woman and her child in the Roman landscape:

HUbertRobertwomanandchild

Catalogue: “the speed of the execution is especially evident here in the quick nervous delineation of the tree that takes up most of the page. In many ways it is a more intricately wrought ornament to serve as a framework for the two figures walking through the countryside than a product of nature … composed with great ingenuity and spirit … “

amolfwatermill
Not in this one but others have people bathing tired feet

Catalogue: that he chose to draw such modest places is stressed.

This fantasy Fountain at Vauclause combines sublime mountains with small Chardin-like figures:

fountainvauclause,jpg

This is a wild concatenation of images, and meditation on Poussin

Hubert Robert – private collection. Title: Le pont sur le torrent. Date: mid 1780s. Materials: oil on canvas. Dimensions: 416 x 616 cm. Auctioned by Christie’s in New York, on January 27, 2007. Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hubert_Robert_-_Le_pont_sur_le_torrent.jpg. I have changed the contrast of the original photo.
Le pont sur le torrent (mid 1780s).

He studied the materials from which buildings and cities were made:

HUbertRobertdenolition
Demolition of Houses on the Pont-du-Change (1788)

From Age of Watteau, Chardin and Fragonard: “fascinating social and historical documents, charting with considerable topographical and human detail major developments in urban renewal in Paris. The city appears in its dual identity of social space and human construction …. chaos and the temporality of human endeavour prevail … [when he makes the people puny in comparison he shows the still lingering influence of] Giovanni Piranesi [but it] unheroic and against the grain of the celebratory ….

It’s a mood and stance that connect it to this fantasy Remains of the Palace of Pope Julius

HUbertRobertporticoofjulius

which forms a pair unexpectedly with

villamedeicigentlemamsketching
Colonade and Gardens at the Villa Medici with Gentleman Sketching (c. 1759)

He is just so varied. Here is a rare sketch of his wife, Marie Suzanne Girouet-Roslin, “Madame Robert Sewing:”

madamerobertsewing

He often shows people creating art, involved somehow, and the charm here (there is no other word for it) is to see the people studying patterns for classical monuments while they sit inside one just going up as a ruin:

charm

****************************

I like best the small unnoticed details, rich coloration and drawing, and figures of people who can’t be brought into anything schematic: first the old man, how he’s dressed, from the Garden of the Italian Villa (the first picture way above)

leftsideoldmamjpg

Then this small passage in one of his garden scenes — the original is much much greener, many shades of dark rich green:

leftsidegrottostatues

He draws Madame Geoffrin drawing for lunch:

RobertHubert-GeoffrinDrawingforLunchpainting

Many red chalk drawings were there and they are so appealing (hardly any watercolors though); some waiting to be “worked up” later into paintings; others curious visions in themselves, by no means all classical:

Thumbnail

I close on a portrait of Robert reprinted far less often than the robust figure Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun caught earlier in life:

robert1799isabey
Robert in 1799 by Jean-Baptist Isabey

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Huge vapours brood above the clifted shore,
Night o’er the ocean settles, dark and mute,
Save where is heard the repercussive roar
Of drowsy billows, on the rugged foot
Of rocks remote; or still more distant tone
Of seamen, in the anchored bark, that tell
The watch relieved; or one deep voice alone,
Singing the hour, and bidding “strike the bell.”
All is black shadow, but the lucid line
Marked by the light surf on the level sand,
Or where afar, the ship-lights faintly shine
Like wandering fairy fires, that oft on land
Mislead the pilgrim; such the dubious ray
That wavering reason lends, in life’s long darkling way.
— Smith, poem found in The Young Philosopher

JosephWright
Joseph Wright of Derby: Moonlight with a Lighthouse

Dear friends and readers,

This past month I read the only longer (4 full volumes) novel by Charlotte Smith not available except in the super-expensive Chatto and Pickering Complete Novels of Charlotte Smith: Marchmont. I cannot think of any rational explaining why this one has been left out. It is superior to those produced in various facsimile editions, as good or better those produced in good popular and academic style editions. I used my downloaded ECCO pdf texts supplemented by a xerox of all four volumes from the microfilms of these ECCO texts I made in the 1980s at the Library of Congress.

Unlike a number of Smith’s novels, it not only has a heroine’s subjective consciousness at the center, the heroine herself, Althea Dacres, is self-contained, pro-active on her own behalf, a persuasively mature intelligent presence. She is closest presence to Austen’s Elinor Dashwood in Smith’s oeuvre. Smith observes verisimilitude carefully, delineates (as she does in another later novel, The Young Philosopher), the actual money relationship of the frequently disparate relatives within an English kinship system at the time. There is a sophisticated analysis of the workings of law and custom dramatized.

Deep into this long novel there is a letter by Marchmont, the hero, to his friend Eversley (this is a novel partly told in letters) where he describes at length what he sees going on all around him, the conditions of prison existence where to get anything at all you must bribe someone; where the acceptance of living in prison for debt is so strong a whole set of industries and type jobs have grown around it, as well as families living “in the rules” (just outside the prison and some prisoners allowed to visit). It’s soberly devastating. She begins with how a person might feel who tells himself how he has long years ahead to live in this place and knows he shouldn’t be there, that it’s an outrageous and counterproductive injustice to put him there. (The creditors Johnson called vultures persisted in hoping rich relatives who were willing — both conditions rarely existed would pay to get the person out.) In her prison memoir Madame Roland has a section on what she saw as people expect to die: Roland brings out the rampant sexuality, prostitution and violence and raw coarse behavior that comes out (a bit of this is seen in Gay’s Beggar’s Opera, but not enough). Smith has her hero reading Roland’s memoir which came out in 1796 so it’s possible Smith read Roland just before or during the time she was writing this novel. Smith does say the people are “profligate, daring and unprincipled,” “careless of consequences” for they have so little to lose.

First_Marshalsea_prison,_London,_18th_century
First Marshalsea prison: an 18th century print

I find myself regretting Smith put this in a novel. It ought to have been published separately. OTOH, it is terrible to our hero and heroine (Althea is married to Marchmont by the fourth volume when he is incarcerated) to look around himself and see so much misery – what he sees happens to people who are led to see themselves as outcasts and everyone attached to them who stays living in sordid conditions of helplessness. Her experience is one of threats from sexual harassment which would bring upon her not only possible rape but the destruction of Marchmont who would insist on defending her honor.

Siege-of-Toulon-Attack
Seige of Toulon, the attack: another 18th century print

Smith includes the horrifying siege of Toulon, and again most graphically, he desperate straits of the different people differently caught up in this story of “blood” and carnage over the course of the event. She emphasizes daily life, monthly life was like in the debtors’ sections and in various vantage points of a seige. The question is a woman’s one: how does one live, carry on regardless in such continuing conditions. We see famine from afar: smith remarks we are “creatures of accident” and refers to Leibnitz Pope, Optimism: she pictures someone asking, what use is this reasoning. She replies by reasoning, by showing these things happen, you may gradually remove abuses. If don’t do this, you are savage and nothing will change. She quotes Horace Walpole on the rightness of subordination at this point — ironically. It is a novel which tells of the failure of the French revolution but maintains its ideals are humanity’s hopes.

The story is many-faceted and tonight I want just to suggest a few of the themes and modes of writing which emerge and are reflective of Smith in her later years; what differentiates this book. When the novel opens, Althea is being brought up by a sympathetically portrayed unmarried aunt, Mrs Trevyllian. When she won’t accede to a forced marriage to a fop-like thug, she is sent to a ruined house, and we have a realistic gothic. The ghost turns out to be the outcast hero, Marchmont descended from a line of Cavaliers whose history of punitive treatment gives us insight into the civil war conflicts and their aftermaths. They are worse in debt than mere bankruptcy (Marchmont must struggle to keep his father’s body from creditors who would hold it unburied as ransom for payment). The novel is famous among those who read 18th century minor fiction for its predatory lawyers, especially one Vampyre (others have memorable names like Tygerface). She is explicit about the oppression to most of the legal criminal justice and legacy systems. She shows smuggling going on continually; small people get caught and the punishment is harsh, but the practice is in effect otherwise ignored. Smith is prescient about the results of the just beginning Napoleonic conquest of Europe. What worlds.

Like Mansfield Park, there is in effect an inset epistolary novel, narratives by the hero, Marchmont, sent to Eversley, his and Althea’s loyal friend, like so many characters in Smith suffering from the wretchedness of marriage to a partner morally stupid, deeply committed to hierarchy and loving senseless social dissipation, egoistically vain. A long embedded novella told in omniscient free indirect third person form is done as a flashback, backstory: our displaced heroine is a servant girl, Phoebe, whose immiseration, emigration, shattered state from what happens to her and her family, and final rescue gives the novel a powerful post-colonial perspective: people who know nothing of the places they are sent to end up killing the people there, with profit seeming to go to invisible further parties. It’s poignant tale of girl maimed — of immense pathos.

Smith reflects on the world of publishing in the 1790s: this is the first text beyond those Kenneth Johnstone udsd in his Pitt’s Reign of Alarm to describe how writers were frightened from writing by the harassment and trials, imprisonment, loss of places to live, jobs, community support. Marchmont’s own reflections about how he daren’t publish or no one will be interested because what he writes will be seen as seditious shows why someone might put this in a novel. She has in this novel had him think about Pitt’s repressive measures against writers. She talks of how somehow it disgraces a person to tell of such an experience (as it would have disgraced her and actually still does to tell of her husband’s abuses of her); how much the success of a book depends on how it’s ushered into the public, how that sort of recommendation influences half the world at least. This is the first book I’ve read that this early brings up the writing life from this political and social capital point of view.

FrontispieceTotheMoon
Frontispiece chosen by Smith for her book of poetry (“To the Moon”)

It has the flaws of her other novels: it moves too slowly at times; she is too insistent on her heroine’s exemplary goodness. If this is a flaw, as in all her books, we see a version of her father, utterly blameable and yet forgiven; her aunt who meant well; her stepmother presented as vicious. I like her acid tone, the rants against “the calamities of this best of all possible worlds.” The way she alone tells how families are by the system they find themselves in, and the heterogenous nature of their ties become engines of alienation. But others will find her not allowing enough space for better social moments in life. And it’s too self-conscious, too repetitive, the language not original enough. Not cliched and plain and honest, serviceable, and can move to theoretical analysis back to demotic dramatized scenes, but not what is found in her The Old Manor House, much less the poetry.

It seems to me to reflect her life at this time. We hear of what she had learned to turn to for whatever enjoyment, companionship, new knowledge, as reasons to stay alive after the death of a favorite daughter, estrangement from her eldest son, and her experience of the others most frequently as financial burden and emotionally twisted sites she had not the resources to sustain or respect and compatibility to direct. Books. This is a novel where the heroine finds “the love of books as the greatest solace and company the world affords.”

The deep-musing beautiful landscapes are found in all Smith’s novels, but here she shows her taste for the sublime. She finds release in a tempest. Yet the book begins and ends quietly: Althea at home with her aunt, and a delineation of routine days spent together. Althea at the close with Marchmont and their children with its reference to fortitude learned and how Althea’s life spreads comfort all around while not as beautifully written anticipate Mansfield Park and Dorothea in Middlemarch.

TurnerScottNovel
A scene from Scott drawn by Turner

Ellen

Read Full Post »

National Trust; (c) Saltram; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Angelica Kauffman, Hector Taking leave of Andromache (1768)

‘All I possess has been attained by my work and industry … ‘ (from Angelica Goddden’s Miss Angel, Kauffman)

Friends and readers,

I return to my series of blogs on women artists. Thus far in this second round, we’ve looked at Giovanna Garzoni (1600-70), Strange and magnificent still lifes; Sofonsiba and Lucia Anguissola (1535/6-1625; 1546/8-1565), Sober, contemplative and self-aware portraits; and Mary Beale(1633-99), An unknown famous Restoration painter. As in the first series I can’t ignore altogether those women artists whose work has been paid a great deal of attention to, at least at times, and if not uniformly respectfully. So we come to Angelica Kauffman, one of two women to help found and be inducted into the Royal Academy of Art in England.

selfportrait
A self-portrait In the Traditional Costume of the Bregenz Forest (1781)

The complaint has been, her work is all “soft femininity,” weak in drawing, no sharp aggressive action (how can this be a history or heroic painting?), her men silly, coy, effeminate, her women utterly dependent.

How the whirligig of time brings in his revenges. What was used to dismiss and marginalize her work is now central to the arguments for its value. Angelica Rosenthal (AK: Art and sensibility) shows how Kauffman disssolves gender polarities, achieves fluid sexuality; provides an imaginary realm for exploring female sexuality, domestic women who choose to be soft, virtuous, civil; built a network of female patrons and painted them; shows us affectionate ties, androgynous forms; “pictorially mines a broad array of possible gender identifications; does not emulate scandalous and illicit behavior but rather is intent on producing figures who are heroic and feminine/effeminate;” we have a “”masquerade” that “uncovers women’s dissatisfaction with the roles they play in the world and their desire for power.”

tremorandinibaca
Tremor and Inibaca (1772, from James Macpherson’s Ossian)

More: the lasting fame that Angelica Kauffman had achieved by the end of the nineteenth-century was as the betrayed victim heroine of a sentimentalized liar husband, all the while she loved and was loved by David Garrick. Anne Isabel Thackeray Ritchie (Wm Makepeace’s daughter, 1837-1919) wrote the novel, Miss Angel (1875) and Margaret Isabel Dicksee (1858-1903, sister of Frank) painted the picture: Miss Angel is the title of Godden’s biography:

Margaret Isabel Dicksee-MissAngelblackandwhite
Angelica Kauffman Visits Mr Reynolds’s Studio

Nowadays Kauffman is seen, along with Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun (1759-1842), her contemporary peer, as contriving her paintings to attract patrons from what we may call luxurious and prestigious marketplace niches.

None of these perspectives is simply an artefact out of what’s fashionable this decade: Kauffman did lead an unconventional private life where she trusted to men, fathers, lovers, husbands, and to follow the outline of her life is to follow a series of astute career choices. At the same time the now numerous respectful studies of her work show her to be creating & choosing a sympathetically female-centered aesthetic and narrative moments the equivalent of l’ecriture-femme in visual art.

In two previous blogs (Women Artists: a few thoughts on “the obstacle race”, Linda Nochlin’s “Why have there been no great women artists?”), I reprinted masterpieces which show her extraordinary talent for color, expressionism, and individual thought where we see her attempting to escape the wanted soft-core porn perspectives imposed on her by popular classical-historical stories,

Kauffmann, Angelica; Penelope Taking Down the Bow of Ulysses; National Trust, Saltram; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/penelope-taking-down-the-bow-of-ulysses-101590
Penelope Taking Down the Bow of Ulysses (1788)

most often altering these images strikingly to make a contemplative, meditative, an imaginary space outside male control (their “inner orient”), liberating because meant for women to identify with, images to satisfy the female gaze and female patrons.

kauffmanATurkishLadyRecliningGazingatMiniature
A Turkish Lady Reclining, Gazing at a Miniature (1773).

Wendy Roworth (A Continental Artist in Georgian England) is not so keen on “soulscapes”, but rather shows us a woman determined to defy her customers who (in England at any rate, where she spent her 15 most productive celebrated years) wanted portraits and landscapes (preferably showing off their wealth), which in the case of portraits she did comply with, viz.,

Angelica_Kauffman_-_portrait_of_Lady_Elizabeth_Foster
Lady Elizabeth Foster (1785).

Now I want to do a portrait life, with some characterization of the pictures. Overlooked has been her strong personal feeling for the subject (particular woman) in some of them. We will look at her as a professional woman artist, but also see how she would read and use (talk about) her reading individually, to express herself.

To begin, Kauffman was a magnificent colorist, but when we see the picture just through the lines we see she does give women bodies, strength and her lines are central to her effect:

ladybinghan
Lady Bingham

What’s more Lady Bingham is there to project a determined defensive stance over her position among the various objects signalling art and imagination.

Kauffman persisted in stories from classical history, allegories of art and the imagination in order to aspire and train herself to do what men did (use perspective, large group compositions, chiaroscuros), and to put women (versions of herself in the men’s places, so she painted witty, thoughtful, portraits successfully (through commissions), but portraits which often displeased the sitters, e.g., the Goethe below.

winckelman
Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1764)

johnbyng
John Byng (1764) — we see Coriolanus beseiged by his mother and wife in the book

goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1787/8)

Goethe registered signs of an ambivalance in herself towards her ambition, desire for fame and need of money that he observed:

Jordi Vigue (Great Women Masters of Art): “[Goethe] is captured as a young, wide-eyed dreamer. He thus recalls Werther … a symbol of the spiritual movement of sentimentalism … he read his play Iphigenia, from which [she] painted several scenes, for the first time before a large audience at her house on Via Sistina, 72, Rome … she visited galleries with her husband, Goethe, and other friends … In 1787 Goethe wrote ‘she is not as happy as she deserves to be for her outstanding talent and heritage which increases daily. She is tired of painting to sell. Nevertheless, her husband finds it only too lovely to cash in on so much money for such easy work. She would feel more satisfied if she could work with more tranquility, care and study.'”

*********************************

AngelicaKaufmannSelfPortrait
One of many idealizing self-portraits (they begin in her earliest years as a painter and continue to her last years)

Contemporary information and documents about her begin with in her first biographer, Giovanni Gherardo de Rossi, an Italian friend from her years in Rome, a contemporary commentator Joseph Farington, and reviews and documents from her extensive activities across England, Italy, Germany, Switzerland. She was born in Chur, Switzerland in 1741, her father a painter, Joseph Johann Kauffman, early recognized her talent and spent much of his life teaching, enabling, living with this daughter. Her mother (about whom little is said) died in 1757. Her father and she traveled in Italy, she copied paintings in Milan galleries, went south to enable her to study works in Parma, Bologna, and Florence (1762). She copied in Uffizzi galleries and was accepted as member of Florentine Accademia del Disegno; in 1763 they were in Rome, and she got a commission in Naples to copy paintings so lived there until 1764 when they returned to Rome. In Rome she met neoclassical male artists there: West, Dance (it’s said she was engaged to him for a time), Winckelmann. She saw or knew about the excavations in Herculaneum and Pompeii just outside Naples. She was musical and received musical training and in a well-known painting modeled on the story of Hercules choosing between virtue and vice, she records by a painting how she was torn between the two; I like better this quiet drawing of a Female Figure as Music:

musicfemalefigure

She was also a great reader; her love and knowledge of books comes out in the variety of books she takes from, in her choice of more obscure subjects, and the details of her allegories.

In 1766 she was invited to come and set herself up in a studio, showroom in London. She did make a bad false step within a year. She was induced to entangle herself in a secret marriage with a Count Frederick de Horn; luckily, that he was an imposter came out quickly, and the marriage was annuled, with little harm to her reputation, for within a year she was named with Mary Moser as a founding member of the National Academy of Art; Nathaniel Dance painted her portrait. However, emotionally she must have been shocked by the experience. Rosenthal tells of her experiences in her studio where she could not avoid being seen as flirting, as trying to seduce a man or being seduced by him by others. Rumors about her and Reynolds circulated (and are given novelistic life more than a hundred years late in Ritchie’s novel). At any rate, if she wrote about this brief marriage or any of these denigrating rumors, nothing of the intimate resonances for her within has survived. We can see her ambition and continual hard work carried on.

A third full-length 20th century book, Angelica Godden’s Miss Angel, is a muddled biography (poorly organized), but attempts a more personal approach. There’s a review in the online Independent by Clare Colvin who discusses this rare “Autograph Letter Signed, 1 page, quarto, London, February 1, 1766. To Miss Anne Sharp.” A Miss Willen sold the original letter in one of her auctions 15 years ago.

I am indeed infinitely obliged to Miss Anne Sharp for the remembrance she is so Kind to have of me, and thank her for the very pretty present she has been so good as to send me. I received it abought [sic] ten days ago, and would have made this acknowledgment sooner had I not been prevented by hurry of a removal and my having begun some Portraits which take up my time a good deal. The miniature was a triffle [sic] not worth your mentioning, but if it gives Miss Anne pleasure I am happy I hade [sic] the honor to paint it—I hope all your Family are in good health. Lady Wentworth was perfectly well a few days ago when I had the honor to see her—I am with the greatest respect Miss Anne Sharps’ [sic] most obedient and most humble

Servant
Angelica Kauffman.

Here is what Willen wrote of it:

“If dukes and duchesses may look at a painting, plainer men and women can at least look at an autograph. This is, then, our sole consolation at not having been born am English aristocrat with an Angelica Kaufmann hanging in our picture gallery. And while nothing can adequately explain how we came to be what we are, this letter vividly illustrates how Angelica Kaufmann got to be what she was: hung in the finest collections in England, the darling of Queen Charlotte and George III, and one of the most commercially successful artists of all time.

In deference to the cognoscenti, we note that when Miss Kaufmann penned this missive, she was newly arrived from Venice, and the protégé of Lady Wentworth. This prodigious lady, they will know, was instrumental in the meteoric ascendancy of Kaufmann’s career.”

There was a trip to Ireland in 1771 where she produces etchings with the man who would become her brother-in-law, Giuseppe Carlo Zucchi. It may be conjectured her relationship with her future (much older husband), a Venetian painter, Antonio Zucchi, began around this time. He was distinguished, took over selection, purchase of materials, enabled her to be much freer because he took on organization tasks. She probably began more and more to lean on him. Meanwhile, alongside Joshua Reynolds, Nathaniel Dance, James Barry and Giovanni Battista Cipriani, she is selected to decorate St Paul’s cathedral with history scenes. The project is never realized.

She was also made fun of: what is a woman doing taking herself seriously in this way: the headgear is intended to suggest she must be mad:

properstudy
An anonymous print after Robert Dighton, The Paintress: the Proper Study of Mankind (172, a mezzotint).

Unexpectedly, Nathaniel Dance modeled (or anticipated) his defense of her on the same kind of arrangement and thin figure:

dance
Angelica Kauffman Drawing a Torso (1767-70)

In 1775 she’s seen as a threat in Nathaniel Hone’s mocking Conjurer. Here Kauffman successfully demanded the picture removed from submission to the Royal Academy. In 1780 she completes the prestigious commission for four magnificent ceiling paintings, Invention, Composition, Design and Colouring, for Somerset House, home of the Royal Academy (Ill. 31-34). W. W. Ryland exhibits 146 engravings after her paintings. This is the height of her fame.

AngelicaKaufmannMuseofComposition
Composition (a detail from a soft-colored version)

Invention
Invention

She did portraits, scenes from novels, erotic allegories erotic (from Tasso); work by her and Benjamin West are today found in Burlington House at Piccadilly from this period. Throughout her career she was involved in the production of decorative art. Some of this or versions of what she executed as designs to be copied by others can be found on sale today:

KauffmannPottery
Beautiful pottery

China
Wedgewood China?

Soldtoday
The picture at the bottom is modelled on a Kauffman-like designs — these still sell

There are roundels (Lady Jane Grey imploring Edward IV); chimney pieces; paintings on furniture. She takes advantage of new mechanical processes, using the stipple dot method (colors could be blended, acquatint plates), and her work is used in the explosion of a print market in this era.

One should mention here the famous Nine Living Muses of Richard Samuel, of whom Kauffman is one:

Portraits_in_the_Characters_of_the_Muses_in_the_Temple_of_Apollo_by_Richard_Samuel
They are in the Temple of Apollo (1777)

She is the only non-English woman among them: Anna Laetitia Barbauld is there for poetry; Elizabeth Carter, for scholarship; Elizabeth Griffith as a playwright, Charlotte Lennox, an author of prose fiction, letter editions, critic; Catharine Macaulay, the historian. Elizabeth Montagu, a leader of society (the word bluestocking must be brought in); Hannah More there as religious writer and playwright, and Elizabeth Sheridan, for music, a singer.

In 1781 she married Zucchi, and with her father, they returned to Italy, at first living in Venice. Following the death of her father in 1782, they moved to Rome and she began a flourishing career there and in Naples. It’s during this time she paints a number of male artists, various aristocratic men and women who come as tourists, courtiers. The comment from Goethe comes from this period. Her palette becomes more austere, and she produces more somber historical pictures: Virgil writing in epitaph in Brundisium; a painting of Cornelia pointing to her children as her treasures:

cornelia

The picture does not emphasize the wealth of these women, the necklace is not central to the feel of the figures.

In her last ten years she has a diminishing output, especially after her husband died in 1795. A cousin was then living with her: Anton Joseph Kauffman, but it seems she felt the loss of presence.

Clara Colvin’s review of Gooden’s book directly contradicts what Germaine Greer (The Obstacle Race) asserts confidently: Greer says that Kauffman’s second marriage was a love match, deeply personally fulfilling for her, and that Kauffmann was devastated at the death of Antonio Zucchi. Greer also presented Kauffman as having lived somewhat estranged from both her parents because she wanted to present a more upper class image than their literal presence would allow. Who is to say? It seems to me she was reliant upon her second husband and father for essential career help while working enormously hard herself to be the best painter and mistress of drawings and designs she could.

But when her husband died, Kauffman was again subject to rumors and worried about her private papers. It’s said that she destroyed the majority of them around this time. Perhaps she grew more inward; you can follow her keeping up with excavations in her letters. She wishes she could visit England “to which my heart so much attached.” She died at 66 and was buried in same church as her husband.

lettergirlreadingkauffman
She drew all her life as a matter of course: this is a girl reading

kauffman_angelica-johann_friedrich_reiffenstein.jg
From these later post-England years: Johann Friedrich Refiffenstein

Parallels and contrasts with LeBrun: LeBrun also was thwarted in marriage; she learned to be self-dependent prudent, a businesswoman in a traveling vein, and she poured herself into her brilliant journals (which I’ve read in an unabridged French 2 volume edition). The relationship which mattered most eventually was with her daughter, whom she painted again and again. I will write about LeBrun in my third series

********************************

I close on some personal thoughts and reactions: As in this picture taken from Paul de Rapin-Thoyras’s History of England (1726-31), she was capable of startling implicitly sexually transgressive conceptions.

eleanorsuckingvenomkauffman
The Tender Eleanor Sucking the Venom out of the Wound (1776)

She was not made uncomfortable about sex. If she avoids salaciousness, it’s out of respect for her characters, audience and purchasers:

deathofadonis
This death of Adonis could come from Shakespeare, Spenser.

Unfortunately among her most popular images are the sentimental ones, like this from Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey of a mad Maria being comforted:

SterneInsaneMaria

We should be paying attention to her rich inventiveness and personal intensity: She lost her mother at a young age, had no children herself; there was a niece. Yet there are so many depictions of women as mothers longingly loving their children,how often she will turn a story that does not on the face of it seem to yield such a conception: the title of this is Papirius Praetextatus Entreated by His Mother to Disclose the Secrets of the Deliberation of the Roman Senate.

Papirius_Praetextatus_Entreated_by_his_Mother_to_Disclose_the_Secrets_of_the_Deliberations_of_the_Roman_Senate_by_Angelica_Kauffman

Her self-reflexivity is often discussed. Here she is as Design listening to Poetry:

KauffmannDesignLeft (Medium)

On the following:

virgil
Virgil Reading the Aeneid to Augustus and Octavia

Vigue comments:

“the principal figure of this painting is not, as the title could lead one to believe, the Latin poet Virgil, nor the Emperor Augustus, but his sister, Octavia. As if in a play, the scene represents Virgil on the left reading the last part of the hero Aeneas’s vicissitudes.” [But here is not a story of the founding of a nation or heroes.] Through Virgil’s verses, Octavia becomes aware of the premature death of her son Marcelo and faints from grief. Her servants hold her up while Augustus fearfully rises from his throne to help his sister. The compassionate Virgil gazes at Octavia with consternation. Kauffman unites two determining factors of her work in this historical painting.

Three women are at the center of this picture. The composition is made harmonious, balanced, with a classical landscape glimpsed through the arch.

I’m attracted to how underneath the classical costumes she presents real scenes from life from a woman’s point of view: she is expressing herself through the popular seasonal motifs of the time, she shows us women with their children trying to keep warm in:

winter.jph
Winter

My favorites remain her still contemplative figures drawing, reading, dreaming. Sometimes they feel silly, overdone, but this is the unconscious security of a neoclassical artist suffused by the newly allowed emotions of sensibility:

famedecoratingshakespearwestombkauffman
Fame Decorating the Tomb of Shakespeare

The finest are often of her women patrons, her friends, where she uses “Turkish” or “oriental” imagery:

AKauffmanMorningAmusement

It doesn’t hurt to see Lady Bingham again, this time in color:

binghamincolor

Ellen

Read Full Post »

1800Romanceofforest
A 2 volume 1800 edition of Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest

Written near a port on a dark evening

Huge vapours vapours brood above the clifted shore,
Night on the Ocean settles, dark and mute,
Save where is heard the repercussive roar
Of drowsy billows, on the rugged foot
Or rocks remote; or still more distant tone
Of seamen in the anchor’d bark that tell
The watch reliev’d; or one deep voice alone
Singing the hour, and bidding “Strike the bell,”
All is black shadow, but the lucid line
Mark’d by the light surf on the level sand,
Or where afar the ship-lights faintly shine
Like wandering fairy fires, that oft on land
Mislead the Pilgrim—Such the dubious ray
That wavering Reason lends, in life’s long darkling way.
— Charlotte Smith, appeared in her Young Philosopher, her last novel

Friends and readers,

As I sit here reading the Collected Letters of Charlotte Smith, edited by Judith Stanton, and find myself just devastated by what the life of a woman sold off, gotten rid of to a ruthlessly abusive and extravagantly egoistic spendthrift gambling heir — not to omit terrifyingly violent and sexually promiscuous — to a great property could be, all 800+ thin pages, with annotations, biographies, notes, locations, I find myself remembering back to a time in the 1970s when the most that could be found in print by Charlotte Smith was two of her novels in staid Oxford University Press editions (Emmeline and The Old Manor House). What a difference 40 years can make.

I asked myself, how did I first meet this woman author? and in what form was my encounter with another equally important author for me from the 18th century, Ann Radcliffe. I did once before my recent moving back into memory to remember first encounters with Jane Austen, write about how I first met Fanny, now Francis Burney, Madame d’Arblay. Unlike most recent and mostly women readers, it was not in college because I was assigned Evelina (or as a graduate student, Cecilia say). No it was a single abridged volume of her journals and letters that will soon reach 24 thick fat volumes. As I said, I was led to seek out some longer version, as it happened a 3 volume one, in a bookstore on 59th Street, a stone’s throw away from Bloomingdale’s, The Argosy because (perhaps unbelievable today) at the age of 23 or so (my first year of graduate work) around on the open shelves of the Brooklyn College library I had found a 1797 3 volume edition of Ann Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest. Even then I thought it was crazy to have such volumes on the open shelves. It was an entrancing visceral experience to read in that form. No illustrations, but the original type, the yellowing pages, the delicate elegant lady-like volumes. I have since written a lot about this book and led a group on line reading and discussing it.

AncorNonTorna (Small)
Alfonso Simonetti, Ancor Non Torna, illustration for 19th century Italian translation of Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest

In contrast to Burney, Radcliffe, and a number of French epistolary and life-writing women (cited in my first encounter with Burney, and eventually Julie de Lespinasse, Madame du Deffand, the memoirists of the reign of terror), Smith was nowhere to be found in used bookstores. One just couldn’t find her by chance. I began reading her as part of my dissertation project on Richardson’s Clarissa and Grandison. There was no romance in these acqua hard-back volumes. Nonetheless, I immediately found myself gripped by the opening of Old Manor House, and found the book sustained itself until near the end. Then for all her reasonable intelligence, Ann Ehrenpreis’s introduction didn’t do it for me. Ehrenpreis didn’t discuss issues that mattered. Smith also had a simplistic character for her heroine:

sensiblevolume

Yet I was drawn in by the hero, by the radical politics of the book, by its acid corrosive anger. I fell in love when I began to go to the Library of Congress, one and two nights a week, and all day Saturday and read in a microfilm form (!) the first edition of her Elegiac Sonnets. It was in 1984, I had had a second baby and was seeking to find some place where I could commune with minds like my own in books. I was 37. Scrolling down and turning the wheel on one of those machines I read her poetry for the first time. Then I found on the shelves below the reading room (which in those day “readers” with cards could explore) equally elegant volumes of Smith’s novels.

manor_house_illustration
A reprint of a 19th century illustration of Old Manor House (found in a recent edition)

I can no longer remember which novel I put on my very own shelf (each reader had a shelf he or she could keep books in behind the rotunda of the reading room), only that it was an uncommon one I did not have to read as a a microfiche, and in an early later 18th nearly 19th century elegant lady edition. I do remember becoming so intensely engaged. It was a heroine I could identify with, one with adult thoughts. Could it have been Marchmont? Then shockingly (to me) I came one day to find my three-volume set gone. I was desolated and worried I would be blamed. Had someone stolen “my” books? I was told by a blasé clerk, “oh no, not to worry, no blame, someone did probably take them.” He seemed confident that they would not leave the library but I was not. What was true was I had lost access to this book. I was at the time not teaching in colleges as yet, I had not gotten any shelf at the Folger, I was cut off from college libraries.

I sat in my chair and cried. This wouldn’t do, people around me were uncomfortable. So I phoned Jim and he came by car and picked me up. Rescued me as we used to put it.

That night he read aloud to me a story by Kipling, and encouraged me not to give up hope, but return — I had begun my study of Vittoria Colonna and Anne Finch, Countess of Winchelsea’s poetry. He urged it was time to brave the threshold of the Folger Library and get a pass; there I could probably be sure my shelf of books would not be tampered with. I did and my entry ticket was my George Mason employment ID. I didn’t need a letter of introduction or reference (whew!)

GenlisbyCarolineherdaughter
Genlis at 50 by Pulcherie (or Caroline?), her daughter by Sillery-Genlis (her husband)

Enfin, songez, mon cher Porphire, qu’il n’est qu’un temps de la vie pour ecrire & pour travailler, & que ce temps s’ecoule avec une extreme rapidite [remember there is only one time in life for writing, for working within, and it flows away oh so swiftly, relentlessly], Adele et Theodore, Felicite de Genlis

I now have an extensive library of both Radcliffe (48 volumes, including xeroxes) and Smith books (36, including hand-written extensive notes), primary editions in facsimile, modern paperbacks, older hardbacks, and marvelous secondary studies for them both. I have elegant lady editions too of novels of Sophie Cottin, Madame de Genlis, and Isabelle de Montolieu (plus an array of later 19th century hard backs, facsimiles, secondary critical works and xeroxed books and essays).

Readingchallenge (Medium)
There are now “reading challenge” blogsites where 18th century women authors (including Smith and Radcliffe) are emphasized

I’m not going to attempt to say what The Romance of the Forest and then Old Manor House together with Elegiac Sonnets meant to me then as I was no longer at the impressionable age I “met” Jane Austen and Jane Eyre. The truth is in some moods I prefer The Mysteries of Udolpho to Austen’s Emma.

The Upper Falls of the Reichenbach 1802 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Courtauld Institute Gallery, London http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/TW0491
JMW Turner, The Upper Falls of the Reichenbach (1802)

Yes. The landscapes of Radcliffe and Smith provide the occasions, the impetus for the thoughts. No matter how hard the revisionist readers of Austen argue only in Persuasion and the gothic moments (these hedged in by ironies) of Northanger Abbey does this happen and then she’s not political. I find in Smith all the radical politics that Austen is said to have and doesn’t. I can say I was in both cases led into the volumes from the melancholy of the tone, the feminine structure of the sentences, the nightmares of Adeline, and the poetry of Smith, which to this day sustain me still, and think the images found in Angelica Kauffman’s work “match” thematically and aesthetically what is found in all these women.

In the case of Radcliffe, I was at the end of graduate course work and teaching; in the case of Smith, I was post-doctorate. Since then I’ve written extensively about them both, here on the Net, in my blogs (Radcliffe, Smith), and in published and conference papers too.

famedecoratingshakespearwestombkauffman
Fame Decorating Shakespeare’s Tomb (Kauffman)

Next time I shall return to my women artists. I’ve delayed too long but first up we’ll be in the eighteenth century for that feminist businesswoman par excellence, Angelica Kauffman.

athratheseus
Athra and Theseus (Kauffman)

And I hope not to long from now to be in a position to discuss Smith’s letters and life in a way I’ve not begun to do, not having experienced what I just have in reading her letters.

Although out of season, as this is not a well-known or familiar poem to Radcliffe’s readers or romantic scholars (let alone a wider audience), I’ll end on an unusual moment in print for her: she is cheerful (!), at home, on a winter evening, with light, music, books, with her favorite dog, Chance.

Welcome December’s cheerful night,
When the taper-lights appear;
When the piled hearth blazes bright,
And those we love are circled there

And on the soft rug basking lies,
Outstretched at ease, the spotted friend,
With glowing coat and half-shut eyes,
Where watchfulness and slumber blend.

Welcome December’s cheerful hour,
When books, with converse sweet combined,
And music’s many-gifted power
Exalt, or soothe th’ awakened mind.

Then, let the snow-wind shriek aloud,
And menace oft the guarded sash,
And all his diapason crowd.
As o’er the frame his white wings dash.

He sings of darkness and of storm,
Of icy cold and lonely ways;
But, gay the room, the hearth more warm,
And brighter is the taper’s blaze.

Then, let the merry tale go round.
And airy songs the hours deceive;
And let our heart-felt laughs resound,
In welcome to December’s Eve
— Ann Radcliffe, First found in Clara Frances McIntyre’s Ann Radcliffe in Relation to Her Time

1983MPLadyBertramAngelaPleasance
Angela Pleasance playing Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park (1983, scripted Ken Tayler), upon meeting Fanny

Ellen

Read Full Post »

MusicalInstruments
Chardin, The Attributes of Music (1765)

dilligent+motherChardinjustdog
A detail from The Diligent Mother

dilligent+motherChardinjusthead
A second detail from same picture

Here you are again, you great magician, with your mute compositions — Diderot

“Who ever told you one painted with colors? One uses colors but one paints with sentiment — Chardin

Dear friends and readers,

It should go without saying that my love for art — and many art books in my library — which has led me to start a series of blog-essays on woman artists, encompasses many male artists too. And those favorite schools of art women participated in or created are often the same ones I find my favorite male artists in too. I have long loved Chardin’s pictures and Diderot’s meditative reviews on them. Above is a reproductive image of one of a copy of one of Chardin’s paintings that I have on one of the walls in my house. I was attracted to Francois Duparc (1726-1778) and Anne Vallayer-Coster (1744-1818) because their art reminded me of his. The latter for their shared area of food:

PeachesWaterWineWalnutsKnife
Basket of Peaches, Glass of Water (sometimes called Wine), a Knife, and Walnuts (1768)

So when I was offered a chance to review Paula Radisich’s Pastiche, Fashion, and Galanterie in Chardin’s Genre Subjects: Looking Smart (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2014), I delightedly looked forward to reading a book which would deepen my appreciation of the man’s vision, artistic techniques, place in the philosophical and aesthetic currents of his era.

'Young_Student_Drawing',_oil_on_panel_by_Jean_Siméon_Chardin,_c._1738,_Kimbell_Art_Museum
Young Student Drawing (1734)

Alas, the book was a disappointment but I reviewed it as best I could on its own terms, and am using this blog to announce the publication of my review in the Intelligencer for March 2014, po 40-44. Rather than quote from or paraphrase it, I will make the review available soon. As I read it I realized Radisch was determined to turn Chardin into a marketplace man satisfying a frivolous elite, performing away for prestige and money, with his models mediocre and salacious Dutch and French pictures. She says that above all Chardin wanted to be seen as a gentleman.

800px-Chardin_pastel_selfportrait
She didn’t include this pastel self-portrait

She chose to cover only the years 1737-52 and only those paintings which could be viewed as genre scenes and places them in the context of the commercial most fashionable paintings (often from a slightly earlier era), trade cards, with a framing taken from the brief half-flippant comments by buyers, collectors, contemporary curators of shows. She concentrated on the famous young gentleman making houses of cards, a very Watteau-like young gentlemen and male servants at billiards, and fashionable ladies in enigmatic poses.

ChardinGameofBilliards
Game of Billiards

Jean-Baptiste-Simeon-Chardin-xx-Domestic-PleasuresNationalmuseum-Stockholm
Domestic Pleasures

Radisch’s way of reading Domestic Pleasures implies that Chardin assumed we might ask (salaciously, as so much fun), Is she waiting for a man to come and fuck her? or is her guilty secret that she just finished masturbating? Of course it’s all too well-bred (and snobbishly elitist) to make this explicit.

In such “le gout moderne” readings, Radische makes much of the gestures of Chardin’s subject’s feet and shoes (fetishes you see) too:

dilligent motheratherfeet
A third detail from The Diligent Mother – this time her feet and shoes

Radisch dismisses Diderot’s Salons (his readings of Chardin) as hypocritical, shaped by a political agenda. Radisch turns Chardin into a marketplace man satisfying a frivolous elite, performing (quiet smut) away. Her book belongs to a conservative backlash encountered in so many recent scholarly books; another one I reviewed just such another on films, Nora Gilbert’s Better Left Unsaid.

the-morning-toiletchardin
The Morning Toilette fits this time span and typology — its enigmatic symbols can be allegorized according to the eye of the beholder

So too

ChildinAbsorbe
Saying Grace (with a detail from the painting enlarged) — very like the diligent mother in feel and mood — because of a similar patterning is then drawn into the mould.

Studying the paintings once again with a context just as historical — Chardin’s contemporary peers and predecessors like Watteau in France, what we find in novels and plays and poetry of the era — I begin to see again that Chardin’s superiority is real and resides in his doing genre paintings of a depth & beauty with a naturalism and quiet ethical feel in the central figures hard to get into words. A number of years ago my husband and I went to one of these gargantuan wonderful exhibits at the National Gallery, The Age of Watteau, Chardin and Fragonard, edited by Colin B. Bailey, also an exhibition catalogue (Yale University Press and the National Galley of Canada, 2003), which contains a number of essays by the finest art scholars and long close readings of many many paintings from the best and typical painters of the era (just about all men in this book): I bought the book and had many times sat looking at its many color plates and used to share thoughts about them with Jim. I went through them again over a few weeks in late summer. The monkey pictures that interest me were left out of Radisch’s book.

XIR188756 The Monkey Antiquarian, 1740 (oil on canvas) by Chardin, Jean-Baptiste Simeon (1699-1779) oil on canvas 81x65 Louvre, Paris, France Lauros / Giraudon French, out of copyright

XIR188756 The Monkey Antiquarian, 1740 (oil on canvas) by Chardin, Jean-Baptiste Simeon (1699-1779)
oil on canvas
81×65
Louvre, Paris, France
Lauros / Giraudon
French, out of copyright

I recommend to my reader interested in Chardin, Frédéric Ogée, “Chardin’s Time: Reflections on the Tercentenary Exhibition and Twenty Years of Scholarship, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 33:3 (Spring, 2000):431-450. Ogée ends his essay with some thoughts by Michael Podro on an essay by Proust on Chardin which I find applicable to what Radisch finds in Chardin:

we do not merely confront them but occupy them with our thought and adjusting our attention and following the connections they afford … Critical description never properly or adequately corresponds to the interest and force of a painting, both because our interest is irreducibly bound to our perceiving and because what we describe takes on its force for us only in the context of innumerable other recognitions in which it is embedded and which lie beyond the scope of describing.

From my point of view (which I didn’t put into my review but is appropriate in blogs), morally, naturalistically, what do we see feelingly?

Jean-Baptiste-Simeon-Chardin-xx-A-Rabbit-Two-Thrushes-and-Some-Straw-on-a-Stone-Table-xx-Musee-de-la-Chasse-et-de-la-NatureChardin
A Rabbit, Two Thrushes and Some Straw on a Stone Table — poor creatures, victims of man’s ferocity and cruel indifference afterward

I like to think Austen would have liked Chardin’s genre scenes. She would have seen the what the above picture shows. In her letters when she mentions the sport of shooting among her brother and their friends, she uses the term slaughter, when she has characters in her novels out shooting, they are ridiculously frivolous in their words presenting themselves as if about a serious task (I think of Tom Bertram).

Ellen

Here I am, you see, staring at a picture. I can never get by this shop without stopping. But what a thing is here by way of a boat. Do look at it. Did you ever see the like? What queer fellows your fine painters must be, to think that any body would venture their lives in such a shapeless old cockleshell as that. And yet, here are two gentlemen stuck up on it mightily at their ease, and looking about them at the rocks and mountains as if they were not to be upset the next moment, which they certainly must be — Admiral Croft to Anne Elliot, Austen’s Persuasion

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »